Fla. Dealers Collected $800,000 for Flood-Damaged Cars, Sold Them

March 24, 2006

Two Central Florida men have been arrested and accused of defrauding auto insurers and reselling dangerous cars to unsuspecting buyers, according to Tom Gallagher, Florida’s CFO. Gallagher is seeking more than $1 million in restitution.

“This is a growing and troubling problem in Florida, we saw similar scams like this appear in the wake of recent hurricanes, as flooded and hurricane-damaged vehicles began appearing on used car lots,” according to Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud, which led the investigation. “These schemes endanger the lives of the unsuspecting citizens who buy these cars, put dangerous and unsafe vehicles on our roads and highways, and cause increases in the auto insurance premiums Floridians pay.”

Hanford Andrew Sutter, owner and operator of Orlando-based Total Fleet Solution, along with Andrew Dinda, a TFS employee, are charged with engaging in a scheme to defraud in addition to numerous counts of filing false and fraudulent insurance claims, grand theft, and uttering forged documents. TFS was operating as an unlicensed third-party administrator and was contracted to appraise damage on some rental cars and file claims for the damage with auto insurance companies.

Sutter and Dinda billed auto insurers nearly $800,000 in inflated damage estimates on wrecked rental car vehicles that they billed as a total loss to collect higher payments from the insurance companies. Then, to avoid the branding of “salvage” or “rebuilt” on the cars’ titles, the men sold the damaged cars to car dealers who resold the cars to unsuspecting buyers. Detectives found that most of the appraisals of the wrecked rental vehicles were completed by viewing photographs of the damaged vehicles, with no on-site inspections by TFS adjusters.

The charges stem from a joint investigation by DIF, the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. The charges are being prosecuted by the Ninth Judicial Circuit’s Office of the State Attorney. Additional arrests are anticipated.

Gallagher is urging Floridians to check if the Vehicle Identification Number on their vehicle matches any of the estimated 120 vehicles re-sold as part of this scheme. The VIN, a multi-digit, 17-character alpha-numeric identifier that establishes a vehicle’s unique identification, is usually located on the driver’s side of the dashboard, visible through the windshield as well as on the inside door panel, and included in title or loan documents. To check the VIN, visit www.fldfs.com and click on “Fleet vehicle resell scheme VIN CHECK.” If a match is indicated, the consumer will be directed to call their local DHSMV office.

In addition to the web site for consumers who may have purchased one of these damaged vehicles, Gallagher last year created “Car Check,” http://www.fldfs.com/CarCheck/CarCheck.asp, to help all Florida auto buyers check vehicle histories before making a purchase. Gallagher created the Car Check web site in anticipation of the possibility of flood-damaged vehicles inundating the market in the aftermath of the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons.

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